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Celebrating a Second Anniversary with Leader Dog Willow

June 7, 2018


Celebrating a Second Anniversary with Leader Dog Willow


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Two years ago this morning, I received from Leader Dog School (at Rochester, Michigan) Willow, my fourth Leader Dog.  On that June 7 of 2016, I was thrilled to begin training with my little Black Labrador Retriever; on this June 7 of 2018, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for Willow and am enormously proud of her impressive guide work.  Her especially sweet and gentle spirit has always been so easy to love.  Willow is a wonderful addition to the quintessential quartet of guide dogs who have graced and enhanced my life since March 21, 1990.


Despite being the smallest of my four guide dogs, Willow was chosen for me by the trainers (guide dog mobility instructors–GDMIs) primarily due to her ability to work in a large city with major construction projects in progress.  My trainer (GDMI) Christie Bane and the other trainers on her team did make a wise decision in selecting Willow for me.  From the first day Willow and I arrived home in Milwaukee to the present and at least until the first of November, our routine has been and will be centered around the construction-of-the-day.  Willow has come to know our neighborhood only as a construction zone that changes from day to day.  Thanks to the training which my Black Lab received at Leader Dog School from GDMI Sue Hackman (who also initially trained my beloved third Leader Dog Zoe) and GDMI Christie Bane, as well as Willow’s innate abilities–my fourth Leader Dog has met all challenges while still remaining a happy and loving dog, who, after working so hard and well, enjoys her play time with her favorite menagerie of toys.


Coincidentally, yesterday may have marked the peak of the greatest impact from the construction of the streetcar project.  While I am glad and relieved that we may now be on the downside of the mountain of construction challenges, we still have many obstacles ahead of us and many re-built “curbless curbs” to learn.  Each of the newly formed curbs/ramps (with tactile domes) will be new to us and will provide numerous lessons for us to become comfortable with all of these “revised corners” of intersections.  Additionally, under shoes and paws, even the new asphalt will feel different to us; eventually, we will become familiar with the contours of the street surface as well.


While practice runs with the streetcar (one of eventually five) continue, the “most unnecessary” streetcar system should be in full operation in November, when Willow and I will have new challenges to address.  Meanwhile, Willow has had ample practice with crossing safely four tracks on the street which is directly west of our home.  Sighted people tell me that Willow shifts her pace so that no paw ever touches one of the embedded tracks.  As you can probably imagine, a gap exists between the rail and the asphalt–an area of caution for us.  Of course, the overhead wires for the streetcar are another concern.  As Willow and I must be constantly mindful of our surroundings, we hope that all drivers of whatever type of vehicles are keenly mindful also.


For a change of pace, we enjoyed an early celebration of our anniversary by attending the Milwaukee Symphony Pops Orchestra featuring Broadway singer Audra McDonald.  As usual, Willow was extremely quiet and cooperative.  Wherever we go, Willow garners so many fine compliments on her beauty and behavior–with or without her pink satin bow.  Listening to a spectacular singer on stage, having a braille program in hand, and smiling at a precious Lab’s head on my lap or beside my feet as I sat in the theatre made for a special celebration of our anniversary eve.


My hope is that Willow and I will enjoy many more healthy and happy years together–with significantly less challenges of construction.


On this sunny June 7, I warmly and abundantly thank my little Willow for guiding me so safely and well through the construction maze of these past two years and for , after the tremendous loss of my Leader Dog Zoe, brightening each day of my life since June 7, 2016.  Once again, I thank all at Leader Dogs for the Blind who make possible such life-changing, life-enhancing, and amazing Leader Dogs.  At any anniversary party, the gifts of mobility and independence are unrivaled.


Our special thanks to all WORDWALK readers who have donated to Leader Dogs for the Blind!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


POST-SCRIPT:  Although Willow is truly patient with my writing habit, now it is WT–“Willow Time”!


June 7, 2018, Thursday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Ann Chiappetta permalink

    Hi Alice,

    I had trouble accessing the edit field to make my comment and it came out horribly! Feel free to send it right to the spam folder. Anyway, a very happy anniversary to you and adorable Willow, she sounds like a sweet and spunky girl!

    • Hi, Annie–Thanks for taking the extra time and effort to post your comment!  Willow appreciates your comment also.

      Enjoy the weekend!

      Alice and Willow

  2. Dear Alice,
    Willow certainly deserves all the love and praise you lavished upon her in this heartfelt essay! In fact, I often see Willow looking up at you with adoring eyes, so the two of you definitely enjoy a mutual admiration society.
    Wishing you and Willow a Happy 2nd Anniversary with many more special celebrations (and no construction projects) ahead of you!
    Love to both of you,

    • Mary–Thanks for your very nice and generous comment, and thanks a bunch for all!

      Best wishes from Willow and Alice

  3. Alice. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 2 years. Time flies when you have 4 wonderful paws padding along side. Great post, and here’s to the next 2 years, and more. dp

    Sent from my Windows 10 Desktop machine


    • Hi, Deon–Great to hear from you!  Willow and I thank you very much for your nice comment.

      Happy June!

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  4. Carole permalink

    Happy Anniversary to you and Willow! She is such a beauty, so wise, and very patient. Wishing you both many years of safe travels through the obstacles and challenges you must face.

    I look forward to Willow and Bebe, our five-year-old birthday girl today, to eventually meet. I know they would have such fun!

    • Hi, Carole–Thank you, and best birthday wishes to Bebe!  I hope that Bebe got a birthday ride in the golf cart today.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

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